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Rays zero in on Vanderbilt pitcher
Left-hander David Price is expected to be the top pick of baseball's annual first-year player draft.
By Marc Topkin
Published June 7, 2007
ST. PETERSBURG - Around 2:15 this afternoon, the Devil Rays will make Vanderbilt left-hander David Price the top pick of baseball's annual first-year player draft.
The Rays will rave about what Price did in college and his potential for success in the majors, and Price will gush about fulfilling his lifelong dream and how eager he is to launch the next phase of his career.
The Rays will be doing what they have been expected to for weeks even if the final decision wasn't made until Wednesday, drafting the player they consider the best available while addressing a primary need for advanced and elite pitching prospects.
But what exactly are they getting?
"A special player and kid and one that the organization will be happy with from Day 1, " Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said Wednesday.
A good pitcher
Price, 21, finished his junior season 11-1, 2.63 with a school-record 194 strikeouts (and only 31 walks) in 1331/3 innings, allowing a .199 average.
His best pitch is a 95 mph fastball, and he has a nasty slider he can throw at any point in a count. The 6-foot-5, 215-pounder's changeup isn't as refined as he didn't need it much against overmatched college hitters.
"We just think he has everything we're looking for in a front-line major-league starter, " Rays scouting director R.J. Harrison said last week. "He's big, he's strong, he's athletic, he's left-handed. He has two 'plus' pitches and we believe that the change-up is not far behind."
The Rays have seen all 18 of his games this season and continue to come away impressed, not only with what Price has done - "Dominant" is Harrison's adjective - but how he has done it. "He has a pretty good idea of how to pitch, " Harrison said.
The Rays' only concern could be Price's workload; he averaged 121 pitches in 11 conference starts, went as high as 137 and threw 130 Friday and came back to throw 14 more Monday in his first relief appearance of the season, giving up the game-winning, thus season-ending, home run.
But the Rays say they are "completely comfortable" with how he was handled (and undoubtedly pleased that Vandy won't be playing any more).
A good prospect
As much as they may need the help now, the Rays are drafting Price for the future.
So, no, no matter how many leads the Rays blow, don't expect to see Price pitching in the majors this September.
Whether he pitches in the minor leagues this fall isn't even for sure, since it may be a product of how long negotiations take, how he feels after a long college season and how much the Rays think it would benefit him. Their priority isn't to get him to the majors quickly but to get him there so he can be successful.
Contract talks are likely to begin Friday, and the only deadline is MLB's new Aug. 15 cutoff.
Price is advised by Tennessee agent Bo McKinnis, whose clients include ex-Ray Dewon Brazelton and Casey Fossum. Last year's top college pitcher, Andrew Miller, got a $5.5-million, four-year deal from Detroit as the sixth pick; the No. 1 pick, Luke Hochevar, got $5.3-million over four years from the Royals. Another issue is whether to negotiate a minor- or major-league contract.
A good person
Vanderbilt personnel tell story after story about how wonderful ("The best physical, mental and emotional player that I ever coached, " Corbin said) and fiercely competitive Price is. And that's before he gets to the field.
"When you do something, you always want to be the best, " Price said. "That's the bottom line. Whether it's playing video games, baseball, dominoes, it doesn't matter. You never want to lose. You never want to be second, or third for that matter. You want to be No. 1 in everything you do. That's my mind-set."
The Rays have been impressed, too. "His character is unquestioned by those people that have been around him, " Harrison said. "He's a top prospect."
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8801. View his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/rays.